This week the United States Supreme Court is undertaking the challenge of ruling on marriage equality. For those mired in religious dogma, this issue is a non-issue and there is no discussion or consideration other than it is not appropriate. But as a person, it should matter to everyone whether the government has the right to dictate whom we can marry and spend our lifetimes with making family history. The two most personal, private, and committed decisions we make in life are with whom we share our life, and whether we create and bring a new life into this world. Those two decisions have been hijacked by the religious right, and while one was decided by the Court decades ago and is under attack, the other is just now getting its day in court. It is about so much more than two people of the same sex being able to legally marry, though…so much more.
The religious right would have us believe that marriage is a commitment between one man and one woman and that’s how God created and wants it. They romanticize the notion of marriage, and fail to fully grasp the history of marriage and what is has typically meant. Marriage has historically been about power and wealth. Families merged based on economic or agricultural needs of the family, not as a result of moonlit walks on the beach by one man and one woman. Women were property, chattel, or bargaining chips, to be used to bring men and or the families of the women some benefit. They had no choice; they had no options; they had no power.
For centuries in this country, the government could control whether people from different races could marry. After time, that was struck down, as it should have been. We are now at the precipice of the only legal gap regarding marriage and who can choose to be married that is left. We are deciding whether people of the same sex should have the same right millions of us across this nation already enjoy: The right to choose whom to marry.
I have to say I do not understand why it matters to others who people marry. I do not. I have seen enough heterosexual couples marry who had no business doing so that I can’t imagine those of the same sex doing it any worse. The hang up, I’m assuming, is the sexual expression that occurs with people of the same sex. Again, I don’t understand what that has to do with the average American. When one of the bestselling books last year was about a dysfunctional bondage relationship, I’m having trouble figuring out how gay sex could be much worse.
But discussions about sex and sexual preference aside, there are some REAL and life changing considerations that must be factored into any decision the court makes. The first of these is the reminder of the fact that marriage is a legal status, above and beyond any religious implications. You can be married in the church in front of God and witnesses, but if you haven’t applied and completed a marriage license, it’s not legally binding. We seem to forget that in the discussion of marriage. It is first and foremost a legal representation. THAT is why the Court will be deciding its legal standing. People need to be reminded that aside from whatever their Bible or Quran tells them, the legal standing takes priority. They are free to believe what they want, but that does not, and should not, impact legal precedent.
Even more important is what that legal standing ACTUALLY represents. Right now, as a legally married woman to a man, my husband and I have mutual financial benefits assigned to us. We fill out combined tax forms, we will be able to receive Social Security benefits from each other’s account if one of us dies once we’re receiving benefits, and under group health benefits we have the option of inclusion of the other. These are not inconsequential considerations. They go to the heart of economic stability and independence. Why Republicans, who don’t want to support people through governmental entities wouldn’t support more ways for Americans to be financially stable, is beyond me. For me, this is the number one reason we need the Court to decide this, and not condemn it to state’s rights issues.
Although a handful of states have already taken the plunge and legalized same sex marriage, until it has the stamp of approval from the federal government, the financial implications I stated will be negatively impacted. The state of Iowa can legalize same sex marriage, but that doesn’t mean Social Security benefits, a federal benefit, will transfer to a same sex spouse. If there is any question why this needs to be decided at the federal level and not the state, this should answer it. Legal protections need to be endorsed by the federal government. Period.
A right of marriage that I hope many of you have not experienced and will not have to, is the experience of the hospital, and what the title of “wife” or “husband” can mean. My husband’s health has been compromised since 2000 when he had a massive heart attack cardiologists were amazed he survived. He’s gone on to have multiple life threatening conditions, the last being a diagnosis and treatment for stage 4 bladder cancer. I have long since forgotten how many days we’ve spent in hospitals; they are too numerous to count at this point. But what I cannot forget is the compassion of medical professionals when they realized it was my husband lying in that bed, and why I was so concerned. It DOES make a difference. You ARE treated differently when you have the legal standing to be the one determining what happens with your loved one. And aside from the ability to make decisions is the opportunity to just be there. As a spouse, you are given much more latitude in access to the medical professionals, or decision making, or even the right to be at the bedside of the one you love.
Because a woman is lying in the bed, why should it matter that it’s a woman standing by her bedside concerned for the patient’s well being? Why should it matter if a man has cancer, that it’s a man bringing him to treatment and caring for him at home? It doesn’t. What’s more, the heterosexual community has no claim on love. We have no standard that makes our love more real or more important than love felt between two people of the same sex. It’s asinine to try to make an assumption like that. But that’s exactly what we do when we deny the gay and lesbian communities the right to love whom they choose. We invalidate their feelings, and demean their commitments to their loved ones, because we don’t deem it real.
If we agree as Americans that strong families are one of the cornerstones of our greatness, then we must be willing to accept families as they are made and as they stand. The old image of the typical American family of one dad, one mom, one son, and one daughter is long gone. Families are multi-colored, multi-layered, and potentially same sex. That doesn’t make them bad. It makes them a family of their choosing, their creation, and of their consensus. Isn’t that what we all deserve? To be surrounded by those who love and accept us? Why does anyone think they have the right to deny that to someone else?
For the life of me, I cannot understand how giving legal standing to any two adults to marry, same sex or otherwise, diminishes my marriage, or the strength of this nation. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I feel when people have the freedom to live the lives of their destiny, the rest of it falls into place. Happy people are productive people, and productive people are assets to their communities. Shouldn’t that be our goal? Shouldn’t we strive to strengthen and support families, knowing that will support and enhance our nation in the long run? Shouldn’t we give the opportunity to marry to those who are willing to commit to their choice for a lifetime?
Anyone who is against same sex marriage is against it because it makes them uncomfortable in some way. They don’t understand it, and as a result, they don’t like it. But that doesn’t mean those who want the same protections of marriage and are of the same sex don’t deserve it. I’ve yet to hear validation about why this is a bad thing for the Court to support. Providing economic protections, providing acceptance in society, and condoning ALL families seem like no brainer opportunities for strengthening our nation to me. I’m hoping the Supreme Court Justices will be willing to consider it that way as well.